The Landing Eight: Mortimer on Rumpole

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

As you may recall, I have been re-reading Murderers and Other Friends (Penguin, 1995) as part of the Landing Eight mission. Due to the rather inconvenient fact of being aware that I was to lose my bookselling job come the end of March, my concentration has been somewhat fragile. Consequently, reading anything, even from an old familiar face has been rather a struggle. But, as I am nearing the end of my Landing Eight pile I have determined to soldier on regardless. Judging by experience, any sort of ‘readers block’ that I have ever encountered wilts quickly enough if I batter it into submission. After all temptation is always (and only) a Landing Bookshelf away.

First Rumpole Omnibus

Legal Eagle…

This is John Mortimer’s second volume of autobiography, the first being Clinging to the Wreckage (1982). He also wrote a play about his father’s life as a barrister entitled A Voyage Around my Father (first broadcast as a radio play in 1963). In Murderers and Other Friends, Mortimer picks up the threads of his life’s story in the 1970s, embarking upon his second marriage and acting in the Oz trial. Accounts of legal cases interweave with reminiscences of family and friends. He is an engaging writer who has a wealth of amusing and perceptive stories to tell about the great and the good, as well as the frankly criminal. The book stands up well on the whole to re-reading. However I did find that Mortimer’s more hedonistic adventures with various friends and acquaintances tried my patience somewhat. However, my present state of mind might have a strong bearing on that reaction.

As a confirmed Rumpole fan, I have re-read this book with him in mind, looking out for Rumpole related anecdotes. John Mortimer explains how he put together the various character traits that we see in Rumpole from several sources. For instance, a couple of Mortimer’s colleagues inspired Rumpole’s habit of referring to judges that he disliked, as  ‘old darling’. Closer to home, Mortimer’s father was the source of the Wordsworth quotations at inopportune moments and a waistcoat regularly adorned with cigar ash. The author does however, very modestly disclaim any resemblance to his fictional legal counterpart, ‘I lack his courage, his stoicism and the essential nobleness of his character’.

Rumpole A La Carte

Stern Pose…

As I said in the previous post, Horace Rumple’s first appearance was in a BBC Play for Today, which was later developed into a series. The character was actually created for television, something that I failed to realise on first seeing the Thames Television series in the late 1970s. Mortimer talks about Rumpole’s beginnings, explaining how Leo McKern took on the role of the Old Bailey hack for the first television episode. Mortimer is eloquent in his praise of McKern’s talent, ‘His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet off the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality’. In his memoir, John Mortimer mentions having written the part of Rumpole with nobody in particular in mind to play the part though he felt that ‘Alastair Sim would be excellent in the part, but sadly Mr Sim was dead and unable to take it on’. No doubt Alastair Sim (had he been still alive) would have made an excellent Rumpole, but like many fellow fans, to me Rumpole will always be Leo McKern…

Now what remains to be read of the Landing Eight?

The two adventures of Rumpole illustrated here are two collections from the Landing Bookshelves:

The Omnibus (1983) contains: Rumpole of the Bailey (1978), The Trials of Rumpole (1979) and Rumple’s Return (1980). 

Rumpole a La Carte was published by Penguin in 1991. 


Mortimer and Rumpole Illustrated

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

Lately I have been re-reading John Mortimer’s volume of memoirs, Murderers and Other Friends in between reading a couple of library books which I needed to tackle before they were due back. Still on the library pile is Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis which I have fortunately been able to renew while I finish Lindsey Davis’ Roman crime novel Saturnalia.

I have long been a fan of Davis’ private eye, Marcus Didius Falco who gets embroiled in the seamy underbelly of Roman society with the able assistance of his formidable patrician wife Helena Justina. As I think I have mentioned, I have been having a crime binge lately (apart from reading Mortimer’s memoirs) thanks to my local library.

I hope to discuss the topic of crime novels in a future post, but for the moment I shall return to Mortimer and his well-known creation Horace Rumpole of the Bailey. While doing a Google search on John Mortimer (1923-2009) I came across this short video of an exhibition of caricaturist Tony Healey’s original watercolour Rumpole paintings. If you have not read any Rumpole stories or watched the television versions starring Leo McKern (1920-2002), then these glimpses of the irascible old barrister might inspire you to explore further. The exhibition also includes several lively portraits of John Mortimer.

The exhibition and the video were the work of a London gallery called Illustrationcupboard which specialises in featuring the work of contemporary book illustrators. This definitely sounds like a place to see when I next visit London. Check out the gallery’s website for some fabulous artists such as Jane Hissey, Edward Ardizzone, Brian Wildsmith and Lauren Child.

On  a separate note, I have recently set up a new chapter on the Landing entitled Booksellers Beyond which is aimed at showcasing the talents of various former booksellers who have gone on to explore other creative avenues. My first guest artist is an old friend with whom I used to work in Birmingham, Valleri Jillard who has forged a new career as a mixed media artist. Take a peek at some examples of her work over in Booksellers Beyond by following the links. I hope to add more to this section soon so keep checking back.

But now, back to Mortimer and Rumpole…

Video credit: Illustrationcupboard, uploaded to YouTube 12 March 2012 (exhibition 20 February – 10 March) – with thanks.

More catching up: Landing Eight Challenge

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

In case you were all thinking that I had allowed my Landing Eight Challenge to fade quietly away, I will just slip in this quick post to let you know the next book to be read from the pile. After much deliberation I decided on the one remaining re-read in the pile (the other one having been Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time).

I have opted to read John Mortimer’s Murderers and Other Friends (Orange Penguin edition) again. This title was grabbed for the Landing Eight pile because it has been several years since I originally read it. According to the note written in side the cover in my own fair hand, the book was a Christmas present in 1995. Try as I might though, I cannot recall from whom I received this volume of memoir (apologies to the unknown giver).

The trigger for picking up this book now and not saving the treat of a re-read for the end of my challenge, was that I happened to come accross a DVD of the first episode of Rumpole of the Bailey  while I was browsing in the library. Actually it would probably be incorect to call it a first episdoe since Rumpole first appeared  together with his wife Hilda (She Who Must Be Obeyed) in a BBC Play for Today in 1975. Rumpole became a series in 1978, produced by Thames Television. Mortimer’s memoirs of his work as a barrister were the inspiration behind Rumpole’s creation.

Now, I will re-aquaint myself with John Mortimer and report back in due course…